On Saturday we took advantage of the beautiful autumn weather and went to the Native American Harvest Festival in Hibernia Park. As newcomers we didn't know what to expect, and it turned out to be pretty amazing and moving. There were a lot of people dressed in Native American clothing, what they called their "regalia," but those of us outsiders wearing humdrum jeans and fleece were more than welcome to enter the dance circle and join in (yes, we did so).
During the inter-tribal dances, done to the accompaniment of drumming and chanting, the dancers moved in a slow circle around a smoldering log. At one point, one of the dancers felt moved to approach the drummers and "honor the drum," and we were asked to put away our cameras during this sacred moment.
The performance by Cenzontle Cuicatl, an Aztec dance troupe from Philadelphia, was nothing short of electrifying. They were amazingly vigorous and athletic dancers, and the muscular drummers who kept the beat had wonderful strength and stamina. Just when I thought they'd gotten as intense as they could (one even broke a drumstick), they took it up another notch.
We also watched a skilled hoop dancer, Matt White Eagle, who linked a few dozen hoops (smaller than hula-hoop size) to create globes and flapping wings, not missing a beat of his dance in the process. I would have been tripping all over myself.
It was incongruous to see a man wearing a full animal headdress lighting up a cigarette, another in Mohawk face paint using a baby-blue cellphone, and an intimidating man with an elaborate silver nose ring wearing orange sunglasses.
I wasn't aware that there was so much overlap between the Native American participants and the veterans' movement. There was even an official "Head Veteran," John Ironhorse. Several of the men wore costumes that combined Native American elements with their U.S. military badges and honors and POW/MIA emblems. There was a prominent booth raising money for Iron Warriors, a nonprofit that provides veterans with special service dogs to help them cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. And pow-wow proceeds were going to support David's Drive 831, a local nonprofit that helps homeless and hospitalized veterans.
Outside of the dance circle were vendors selling Native American jewelry, clothing and other paraphernalia. One food vendor had an apparent electrical problem with her truck: a pow-wow participant wearing suede moccasins, and standing on wet ground, informed her that he suffered a painful shock when he touched the truck's metal serving hatch. She immediately shut down operations.